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A few thoughts on marriage …. 18th century style

I came across this scene depicting a wedding ceremony in the eighteenth century and it reminded me of the various times Richard Hall mentions weddings – both his own, his friends, and his family. Nowhere does he say anything helpful – like what the bride wore – but he rarely forgot to mention the weather….

I am aware that there was no set idea that the bride must wear white – and for servants there was never any question of having a dress that could only be worn on one occasion.

But it is interesting to see how many of the paintings of weddings of the time do show the bride in an ivory coloured satin concoction. Take the painting  by artist Joseph Highmore used to illustrate to Pamela’s Wedding – one of four scenes  from Samuel Richardson’s ‘Pamela’.

The picture appears courtesy of Tate Britain, and the explanation with it states “On Pamela’s left is her humble but dignified father, who gives her away. In the background, behind the groom, is the housekeeper Mrs Jewkes, now also a reformed character. She grasps a bottle of smelling salts in case she is overwhelmed with emotion.”

Next up, a rather splendid wedding dress from around 1775 and which appears on the V&A site- now that really is a statement dress! Talk about tassels and bows….Pippa Middleton eat your heart out

However popular ivory may have been, some of the single colour dresses were rather special, none more so than this American wedding dress from 1776 which appears on the Metropolitan Museum site.

The last picture I wanted to include is one I have used in various talks ,but for the life of me cannot remember where I first saw it. I like to think it is a fair representation of what Richard Hall would have looked like when he married a wealthy heiress in 1754:

 And to end with, a couple of caricatures from the Lewis Walpole site on the topic of weddings, both entitled “Three weeks after marriage”. The first appeared in 1786 and is by Inigo Barlow:

The second appeared in 1822 and is by J L Marks.  Cynics, the pair of them!

9 thoughts on “A few thoughts on marriage …. 18th century style”

    1. It would appear from the pictures at the time that an awful lot of wealthy 18th Century brides were wearing white/ivory dresses – perhaps as a way of showing that this was what they could afford. Certainly my understanding is that “ordinary” brides would not have worn white – and much of our idea of formal wear does indeed date back to the Victorians.

  1. Lovely group of Pictures. Thanks. Most of your site is quite informative and enjoyable. Such a wonderful inheritance.
    I think that the white wedding dress has always been around in much the way nuns wore white when becoming brides of Christ.
    Usually ladies wore a new dress that they would wear later. A white dress was a sign of some prosperity as white was harder to keep looking good than other colors..
    The cartoonists were not very optimistic about marriage . Was it Tolstoy who said that happy families weren’t as interesting as unhappy ones?

    1. Not only was she a wealthy heiress but Daddy did the right thing by dropping down dead a few weeks after the wedding. Even more “tragic” Mummy died within the year, so Richard inherited a small fortune, made by his father in law from a spot of property speculating after the Great Fire. It had enabled father in law to retire to the Cotswolds and buy the Mansion House at Bengeworth – still standing, and operating today as the Evesham Hotel. When Richard’s first wife died his 3 kids were horrified when he immediately re-married, to a very much younger woman. They could see their inheritance disappearing out the window – and were not on speaking terms with their father for the next 20 years! And yes, I am descended from the children of his second marriage – and no, he didn’t neglect his earlier children and indeed left them the entire inheritance due to them from their mother. Ah families! Where would we be without them …?

    1. Daughter married “Mr Griffiths of Bath” while son Benjamin became a lay preacher, tried his hand at farming, ran an ironmongers shop in Coventry, and ended up fathering a son who became a C.of E. vicar. 2 more vicars followed, then a son who invented “blue prints” and made a packet after the First World War. After that we degenerated into accountants and lawyers and never achieved anything….

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